Darwin, for those unfamiliar, is the capital of Australia’s Northern Territory. Sitting on the coast, in a part affectionately called ‘The Top End’, Darwin is isolated in the country’s tropical north, being significantly closer to many Asian countries, like Indonesia, than to the majority of the population of Australia. To put it into perspective, a road trip from Sydney to Darwin would take around 45 consecutive hours to complete.
Isolation has served the town well, as locals are proud of their identity that separates the Darwin from the rest of the country. Some aboriginal communities exist amongst the already diverse population, and untouched nature surrounds the town. The Top End capital, like many of its people, somehow combines rowdy enthusiasm with a relaxed state of mind that makes it an entertaining destination for travelers and their families. If you’re looking for something off the beaten track to take the kids to this summer, check out some of our favorite things to do in Darwin.
A place that features an attraction called “The Cage of Death” doesn’t exactly seem like the best family destination but believe it or not, it’s one of the most fun activities in Darwin. The Cage of Death sees crazy volunteers lowered into a croc enclosure in a clear tube during feeding time (crikey). Although reserved for guests 15 years or older, younger kids can enjoy the many reptilian exhibits including Fishing for Crocs, where visitors can feed young crocodiles with fishing rods, or explore the turtle billabong and snake habitats.
For a family keen on the outdoors, Darwin is a haven. Darwin boasts easy access to some of the country’s greatest natural destinations like Kakadu National Park, Litchfield National Park, and Mary River National Park. The Northern Territory is home to some 20 national parks in total. Kakadu is praised for its aboriginal rock paintings and sweeping views of beautiful, untouched landscapes. Kakadu could be a trip on its own as the park is huge — many rangers will remind visitors it’s half the size of Switzerland. Litchfield, about an hour and a half from Darwin, is primarily composed of a series of plateaus and gorges that result in a number of waterfalls with safe swimming holes. Both parks are also known for their cathedral termite mounds, towering homes architected by the tiny pests that loom over visitors, some being two to three times taller than the average human.
Open during the dry season, April to November, this outdoor movie theatre screens movies seven days a week. The comfy chairs situated at the edge of Darwin Harbor create an excellent atmosphere where families can bring picnics to enjoy great films, Incredibles 2 coming soon this summer.
Defense of Darwin Experience
The Defense of Darwin Experience offers a glimpse into Australia’s involvement and sacrifices during World War II. The most notable exhibition highlights February 19, 1942, when Japanese forces bombed Darwin, an attack that claimed the lives of close to 250 people. The museum does a great job honoring a difficult time in Australian history, while still being accessible to families, as kids are usually interested in the old warplanes and interactive exhibits.
Displayed against the backdrop of Mindil Beach, the Mindil Beach Sunset Market is a must-visit for anyone in Darwin. Open Thursdays and Sundays from April to October, the market has 200 stalls in total selling handmade jewelry, art, and other cool trinkets. Many locals argue that Darwin’s sunsets are the best in the world, so grab some food at one of the 60 food stalls that highlight the city’s diverse peoples and tastes, and head down to the beach to watch the skies over the Timor Sea put on a dazzling show.
Some 50 miles away from the Darwin coast are the Tiwi Islands. The most popular of these islands to visit are Bathurst and Melville Islands, but access to the Tiwis is usually restricted to daily tours leaving from Darwin. The islands themselves are known for being the home of the Tiwi Aboriginal people, and tourists to the islands are often delighted to see their community intact. The best way to get a feel for this modern aboriginal culture would be to see an Australian Rules Football match or visit some of the amazing art galleries.
Jumping Crocodile Cruise
River cruises on the Adelaide River leave numerous times throughout the day. However, the main appeal is not the river, but instead, its inhabitants. Jumping Crocodile Cruises is exactly as advertised. Cruisers are treated to a show involving their captain tempting giant fresh and saltwater crocodiles with meat dangling from a string. After enough taunting, the crocs will lunge out of the water for the food, right alongside the open boat. Kid tickets are cheaper, but make sure all little hands and feet are kept safely inside the boat at all times.
Beer Can Regatta
The Darwin Lions Beer Can Regatta is a beloved tradition in the Northern Territory. Now 44 years deep, this yearly event features the main iconic event, The Battle of Mindil, where teams race boats handmade from empty beer cans. The race is equal parts exciting and silly, as opposing teams are allowed to pirate and sabotage other boats. The rest of the day is filled with other family-friendly activities like sandcastle building competitions, thong (sandals not the other kind)-throwing contests, and children’s beach races.